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Women and the future of IT

Thornton May | Jan. 8, 2015
The industry’s attitude toward women has to change, just as much as women’s attitude toward the industry and STEM education has to be revised. The key will be starting when they’re young.

rosie the riveter

The future of IT very much depends on our industry collectively being able to rebrand our discipline as a preferred place for women to work. The attraction and retention of female IT executives is not just a "feminist" or "women's studies" issue. It's an IT industry issue -- an issue all of us have to understand and take action on.

Until recently I had labored under the very erroneous assumption that in IT, and in the technology industry in general, gender bias didn't exist. I figured that, yes, there were probably isolated instances of discrimination. And yes, there were probably some small-minded, misogynistic, "bad apple" IT managers out there. But for the most part I figured IT was progressive. Becky Blalock, the recently retired CIO at the Southern Company and author of Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage & Career, provided data, frameworks and stories that started me on the path to understanding the real situation regarding women in IT. Becky explained to me that "men don't know what they don't know." She is now tirelessly campaigning to portray our industry as it really is vis-à-vis careers for women and remove the systemic barriers that keep women from entering and remaining in our field.

Situationally naive
As an empirical futurist, I was embarrassed at how out of touch I was with what was really going on regarding women in the IT workplace. Gender bias was never on my radar screen. Having never been discriminated against personally, I was insensitive to the experience of those who had. 

My great-grandmother was one of the first women in the state of Pennsylvania to have a driver's license. My mother-in-law was one of the first women to become an MD in the state of Louisiana. My mother was prominent in human intelligence gathering for the National Security Agency after World War II. It never occurred to me that women could be considered less equal or less qualified for any endeavor. In my family, the males always aspired to be as smart as the females. 

Additionally, in thirty-plus years of researching leadership excellence, the most powerful case studies almost invariably featured a woman CIO. To listen and learn from Dawn Lepore, formerly CIO at Charles Schwab; Cheryl Smith, formerly CIO at both West Jet and McKesson; Jody Davids of Agrium and formerly CIO at Cardinal Health, Nike and Apple; Jennifer Sepull of Kimberly-Clark; Andy Karaboutis of Dell; Karen Green of Brooks Rehabilitation; Joanne Kossuth of the Olin College of Engineering; or Rebecca Jacoby of Cisco was to experience the very best in leadership. Show me a conference that doesn't have at least one woman featured as keynoter and I will show you a conference that celebrates mediocrity.  


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